The Made-up “Real”


“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” ~ Albert Einstein


“The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.” – Eugene Ionesco
Dreams are purported to be not real. They are thought to be constructions of our nervous system that occur during an altered state of consciousness termed sleep. But, they appear and feel very real. While the dream is in progress we experience it as completely real. Things happen mostly in real time. We visualize people, places, and things in great detail and hear sounds and voices. We even feel emotions. What’s different about a dream in comparison to what we call reality?


In actuality, much of what we experience during so called “reality” is not real, but a construction produced by our nervous systems. We experience color in our visual world, but in fact there is nothing in the physical world that has color. Our eyes take in different wavelengths of light, electromagnetic radiation with different distances between peaks. That is all. There is nothing colored here. But our eyes have three different receptors that respond to different ranges of wavelengths. Our brain then interprets the activity of these receptors as different colors. In fact it is a complete illusion. What we think we see and experience is in fact not there.


Our everyday thoughts, day dreams, and fantasies we recognize as not a reflection of reality. But nevertheless they constitute a constructed experience. Our brain is completely capable of constructing experiences that are similar to those that we label as “reality.” Could it be that this labelled “reality” is in fact just another constructed experience?


The great physiologist and philosopher, Johannes Müller, pointed out that we are not directly aware of the natural world, but rather what we are aware of is the state of our nervous system. In other words, our awareness is simply of what is going on in our nervous system. It is constructed by brain processes. Is this any more real than the dream?


It is clear that we can make up experiences and perceive them vividly. The great question then becomes how much is “real” and how much and which ones are mental constructs. This question has had a range of answers from the materialist who suggests that there is objective reality to the Zen master who suggests that there is no reality other than pure being.


If all that we are aware of is the state of our nervous system is that, at least, an objective reality? Dreams are produced by internal brain activity that lacks an external referent. These are apparently very “real’ to the dreamer, but most would agree that they are not “real.” Drugs can produce very “real” experiences but most agree that they are not “real.” But are these experiences not just a construct of altered brain activity produced by sleep systems or altered chemistry, respectively? If our sleep systems or altered brain chemistry can produce an untrue “reality” what does this imply about the “reality” produced by our usual brain chemistry? Does it not imply that the nervous system is at best an unstable platform for the expression of “reality” or that our awareness itself does not present to us the “real?”


The only thing that we conclusively know to be real is our personal awareness of the immediate moment. Everything else is just a memory or a fantasy. That experienced moment is ever changing, mutating, arising and falling away. It cannot be held onto. So, the only thing that we know to be real is ephemeral, a puff of smoke blown in the wind. But, is this phantasm real or is it created in our awareness? Is it a reflection of an objective reality or a compelling hallucination? Does it have substance beyond experience?


We have arrived at the point of concluding that the only “reality” that we can know to be real is an ephemeral experience of a present moment and that even this is perhaps only a continuing experience of the ever changing state of our nervous system that we know is not an accurate depiction of any external physical state of environmental energies. To be sure, this is a very tenuous grasp at something “real.”


Doesn’t it make more sense to admit that awareness is the only “reality?” What enters awareness is simply what we experience regardless of its origin. Does it really matter if it is reflective of an external “reality” or simply all made up? It is simply our “reality” and it may not need to be anything more. Seeing it this way, the question becomes irrelevant.


 “I’m more convinced each day of the complete unreality of the material world and the supreme vitality of the invisible world of spirit.”- Paul Russo


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Be Less Dependent upon Others with Mindfulness


Authority refers to an interpersonal relation in which one person looks upon another as somebody superior to him. – Erich Fromm
The human being is a social animal. We need other people as the oft quoted saying goes “no man is an island.” But people vary greatly in how much they need other people. Some people are very independent and do not have a strong need to rely upon and be with others, while other people are very dependent on others for comfort and support. High interpersonal dependency is frequently related to low self-esteem, depression, and social anxiety. This can reach a level of a pathological dependence where the individual is totally dependent on others and has an impaired sense of self.


An extreme level of dependency on other people is diagnosed as dependent personality disorder. This disorder occurs in about 0.6% of the population and is characterized by an inability to make decisions alone, a need for constant reassurance, feelings of uncomfortableness and helplessness when alone, unrealistic fears of being abandoned, and excessive effort to be supported by others. The individual who is so dependent will want to pass over the responsibly for their life to other people as much as possible. They will also tend to feel helpless if other people are not around to offer guidance and support, and will not disagree with others for fear of loss of that support. Needless to say, the individual cannot function effectively and some form of therapy is needed.


Mindfulness training would in theory be helpful for interpersonal dependency. This follows from the ability of mindfulness to help improve emotion regulation, reduce depression, worry, and anxiety, and improve reappraisal skills. In today’s Research News article “The Application of Mindfulness for Interpersonal Dependency: Effects of a Brief Intervention”

McClintock and Anderson first induced a dependency mood in undergraduate students who were high in interpersonal dependency. This induction greatly increased anxiety and negative emotions in the students. They then treated the students with either a brief (20 min) mindfulness training or a similar control condition that required concentration and imagination but not mindfulness. They found that the brief mindfulness training significantly increased mindfulness, and decreased anxiety and negative emotions. They further found that the mindfulness facet of decentering was completely responsible for the effectiveness of the mindfulness training.


These results are very interesting and suggest that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for interpersonal dependence. They further suggest that the mindfulness facet of decentering is responsible for the effectiveness. Decentering involves a change from personally identifying with thoughts and feelings to relating to one’s experience in a wider field of awareness. In other words mindfulness training produces a reduction in the personalization of experience. This allows the individual to interpret experience as not always about themselves, providing objectivity in interpreting experience. Since interpersonal dependence relies upon the individual interpreting experience as reflective of their personal ineffectualness and worthlessness, the reinterpretation allowed by decentering would be quite beneficial.


Obviously, much work needs to be done to demonstrate that mindfulness training is effective for dependent personality disorder in clinical application and over a longer period of time. But the present results suggest the more intensive investigation is warranted.


So, practice mindfulness and be less dependent on others.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Think Again with Mindfulness


“How would your life be different if…you stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…you look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” -Steve Maraboli


A key aspect of mindfulness practice is non-judging, that is letting things be as they are without making value judgements about them, e.g. good or bad, safe or dangerous etc. This by itself is quite liberating allowing the individual to look at things with a completely open mind. This, in turn, can empower the people to look again at how they’ve been interpreting the occurrences in their lives and perhaps coming to a new conclusion as to their meaning. This is termed cognitive reappraisal and is simply rethinking about how you’ve been interpreting life events..


Incorrect or biased appraisals of everyday or unusual events and interactions with people are characteristic of a variety of mental illnesses. They will tend to interpret even innocuous events as reflective of personal weaknesses. A very effective psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, was developed specifically to reprogram thinking to reappraise events. For example, a depressed patient might interpret being turned down for a job as evidence of their worthlessness. A cognitive reappraisal might result in the individual rethinking this interpretation and seeing that the decision was appropriate as the job would not have been right for them and they would have been unhappy in it. Hence, cognitive reappraisal is a key process in emotion regulation and in turn mental well-being.


Mindfulness has been previously shown to be associated with improved cognitive reappraisal (see and and In today’s Research News article “State Mindfulness during Meditation Predicts Enhanced Cognitive Reappraisal”

Garland and colleagues investigated the effect of brief mindfulness training on students’ states of mindfulness and their associations with cognitive reappraisal. They found that the brief mindfulness training indeed increased levels of mindfulness, particularly non-reactivity and the higher the levels of mindfulness the higher the levels of cognitive reappraisal. The more mindful the individual the more likely they were to rethink their interpretations of events.


Mindful non-reactivity represents the ability to experience events, including negative events, and not react to them, but rather just experience them as they are. By not reacting to events the individual is better able to look objectively at the event and reappraise their usual ways of interpreting them. In other words non-reactivity liberates the individual to rethink how their looking at things. It cannot be overemphasized how important this is for mental well-being. The individual can break out of overlearned patterns of thought that produce or reinforce negative feelings about themselves. They can then appraise things that occur with distance and logic, objectively interpreting the event. This goes a long way toward relieving worry, anxiety, rumination, depression, and low self-worth.


So, be mindful and think again.


“Successful men and women will always redirect the course of negative thoughts and situations into advantageous ones. What if you were able to start flipping obstacles into opportunities? To see breakdowns as breakthroughs?” – Thai Nguyen


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Teacher Well-Being with Mindfulness

“The connection between mindfulness and education is both natural and fundamentally important, now more than ever.  The difference between a good teacher and a great teacher, it is often that ineffable quality that you know but cannot pin down in words.”  – The Mindful teacher


Teaching is a stressful profession causing many to burn out and leave the profession. A recent survey found that roughly half a million U.S. teachers move or leave the profession each year. That’s a turnover rate of about 20 percent compared to 9 percent in 2009. Indeed, anywhere from 40 and 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years, with over nine percent leaving before the end of their first year.


The high stress of the occupation shows up in higher rates of anxiety disorders, but particularly in physical ailments, with higher rates of laryngitis, conjunctivitis, lower urinary tract infections, bronchitis, eczema/dermatitis and varicose veins in female teachers. There is a pressing need to retain good teachers. So, it has become very important to identify means to help relieve the stress and lower burnout rates.


Mindfulness has been shown repeatedly to decrease physiological and psychological responses to stress (see and Mindfulness has also been shown to help improve performance and relieve stress in students (see and In addition, mindfulness has been shown to decrease burnout in the medical profession (see So, it would seem reasonable to suspect that mindfulness training would help teachers to reduce stress, the consequent physical symptoms, and burnout.


In today’s Research News article “The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Educator Stress and Well-Being: Results from a Pilot Study”

Frank and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of a mindfulness -based stress reduction (MBSR) program to improve high school teacher stress and well-being. They found that MBSR produced significant improvement in emotion regulation, self-kindness, mindfulness, overall self-compassion, and sleep quality in comparison to a no-treatment control group.


Hence it appears that MBSR is effective in improving well-being and reducing stress in high school teachers. Of course, more research is needed particularly with randomly assigned active control conditions and long term follow-up. But, these results are very promising. Given the importance of education to the well-being of our entire society, helping to relieve the problems experienced by teachers has to be a high priority.


This as well as research with students points to a development of a total mindful environment in education, where both students and teachers are trained in mindfulness and mindfulness practice is incorporated in the school day. The research suggests that this could have a major positive effect on education.


So, teach and learn with mindfulness


“I had decided that this would be my last year teaching until the mindfulness program began at my school. Now I am rededicated to my profession.”Teacher, East Oakland


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Think more Clearly with Mindfulness

“Typically, people want to see themselves in a positive light the majority of the time. Unfortunately, we may even do that at the cost of blaming others for things that may actually be our own fault. We want to believe we are responsible for good things, and someone or something else is responsible for the bad things. These wants cause the self-serving bias.” – Harmony A Robles


People in general tend to believe that they are rational and unbiased in their viewpoints, particularly in regards to themselves. But research has repeatedly demonstrated that this is not true. People are overly reactive to past experience, tending to act and think in the same way repeatedly even when a more accurate or productive mode is available. People tend to overreact to negative information giving it greater value in their thinking than positive information. People tend to believe that events are more likely to occur in the future if they have recent memories of their occurrence. If a belief is commonly accepted then it is more likely to be believed by the individual.


People generally fall prey to the gamblers fallacy believing that if an event hasn’t happened in a while that it is more likely to occur in the present. People tend to be wishful thinkers being over-optimistic and overestimate the likelihood of favorable and pleasing outcomes. People tend to overestimate the amount of influence they have over other external events. People also have a tendency to see themselves as less biased than other people. The list is much longer, but suffice it to say that our thinking is not as rational and unbiased as we tend to think it is.


Mindfulness has been shown to help correct some of their biased thinking. In particular, it’s been shown to help relieve individuals of being overly influenced by past experiences that is known as task sets (see It’s been shown to improve decision making by improving reflective consideration of the information, ability to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant information, reducing irrational behaviors, habitual tendencies, risky decisions, and overreacting to negative information See So mindfulness may be somewhat of an antidote for biased thinking.


In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Bias in Self-theories”

Hanley and colleagues investigate the relationship between levels of mindfulness and biased thinking about the self. In particular they looked at whether the individual had an even or a biased view of the permanence or changeability of intelligence and personality. They found that more mindful individuals tended to have a more balanced and unbiased view of the self.


These findings provide additional support for the notion that mindfulness assists us in seeing things, including ourselves, in a more rational and unbiased way and as a result to reason better, solve problems better, and be more creative.


So, be mindful and think more clearly.


“The true means of being misled is to believe oneself finer than the others.” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Maintain Emotional Balance with Mindfulness



If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” – Daniel Goleman


There are four facets to emotions, the physiological response, the intensity, the label, and the time course. Emotions are accompanied by changes in our internal state, often an arousal response. These have an intensity being somewhere between mild to overwhelmingly strong. But neither the physiological response nor the intensity defines the emotion that we experience. Rather, we label the experience as a particular emotion depending upon the circumstance in which it occurs. So, if we come home late at night and upon entering our home we are surprised by unexpected people in the house. This may be labelled fear if these are strangers, anger if these are people whom you’ve earlier asked to leave, or happiness if it’s friends throwing you a surprise party.


One aspect of emotions that the scientific study of emotions has rarely addressed is the time course of the emotion; how quickly does it peak, how long does it last, and how quickly does it dissipate and return to normal. This aspect can be very important. If we get over fear quickly the consequences may be quite different that if it persists for a long period of time. Persistent emotions can become problematic leading to physical or mental problems. They can also be self-perpetuating, where fear of the fear results in an increasing spiral of more and more intense fear. So an important personal characteristic is the ability to recover from emotion quickly.


Mindfulness has been demonstrate to improve emotion regulation (see and and emotional intelligence (see In today’s Research News article “Why It Pays to be Mindful: Trait Mindfulness Predicts Physiological Recovery from Emotional Stress and Greater Differentiation among Negative Emotions”

Fogarty and colleagues identified participants with high levels of mindfulness and those with low levels. They then measured heart rate, hear rate variability, and the subjective emotional experiences of these participants while writing about an emotionally charged experience that they had or an emotionally neutral experience. They found that males with high mindfulness had lower heart rate variability to emotions than low mindful participants, suggesting that mindful men experience emotions at lower intensity. They also found that more mindful men had greater physiological reactivity to an emotional task followed by superior recovery. In addition, high mindfulness participants were better able to distinguish between emotions.


Of course these results are correlational and need to be repeated manipulating levels of mindfulness with training. But, like the literature, they suggest that mindful individuals have better emotion regulation including clearer experiences of different emotions and lower physiological intensity of emotions.


So, be mindful and improve emotional experiences.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Mindful meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses. – Daniel Goleman

Choose a Mindful Therapist for Better Therapy



“The relationship between patient and clinician is central to the provision of mental health care. Where psychological therapies are concerned, decades of research indicate that the provision of therapy is an interpersonal process in which a main curative component is actually the nature of the therapeutic alliance.” – Russell Razzaque , Emmanuel Okoro, Lisa Wood


Psychotherapy is an interpersonal transaction. Its effectiveness in treating the ills of the client is to some extent dependent upon the chemistry between the therapist and the client, termed the therapeutic alliance. Research has demonstrated that there is a positive relationship with moderate effect sizes between treatment outcomes and the depth of the therapeutic alliance.


The therapeutic alliance is conceptualized as consisting of three components, tasks, goals, and bond. Tasks are what the therapist and client agree need to be accomplished to reach the client’s goals. Goals are the outcomes that the client hopes to result from the therapy. The bond between the therapist and client develops from trust and confidence in the therapist that the process will satisfy the client’s goals. It should be clear that this alliance is a cornerstone of the process of psychotherapy. If the client’s goals and expectation are not aligned with those of the therapist, if the client does not agree with or is unwilling to undertake the tasks involved, or if the client doesn’t trust the therapist, then the therapy is doomed to failure.


The personality and characteristics of the therapist are a essential ingredients in forming a therapeutic alliance. Research has shown that effective therapists are able to express themselves well. They are astute at sensing what other people are thinking and feeling. In relating to their clients, they show warmth and acceptance, empathy, and a focus on others, not themselves. It would seem that mindfulness would be essential. Communications involve not only talking but listening, a mindfulness skill. Being able to look at things as they are without judgement, another mindfulness skill, would appear to be essential to this relationship. The mindfulness component of being in the present moment would also seem essential to focusing on what are the client’s immediate experience and reactions. So, it would be reasonable to suspect that the mindfulness of the therapist would be related to the therapeutic alliance and to the outcome of the therapy.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness in Clinician Therapeutic Relationships”

Razzaque, Okoro,  and Wood explore the relationship between mindfulness and the therapeutic alliance in experienced therapists. They found a strong positive relationship between mindfulness and the ability to form effective therapeutic alliances. All of the components of mindfulness were found to be related to therapeutic alliance, but openness to experience and non-judgmental acceptance were found to be the most important components.


The fact that openness to experience was the most important mindfulness characteristic predicting therapeutic alliance should be of no surprise. It allows the focus of the therapist’s attention to be open to whatever the client brings to the therapeutic session. This results in the clients feeling listened to. In addition, the clients themselves can learn to be open by modelling the openness displayed by the therapist. The fact that non-judgmental acceptance was an important mindfulness characteristic should also be of no surprise. This results in the therapist being more accepting of the clients’ difficulties without judging them. This allows the clients to also come to accept themselves and their problems and work toward solving them rather than ruminating about them.


Hence the results of the study support the notion that the mindfulness of the therapist is essential to the therapeutic alliance and the ultimate success of the therapy. It should be mentioned that this study was correlational and cause and effect cannot be determined. It will be important to perform research in the future where mindfulness training is provide to therapists and to determine if this then improves the therapeutic alliance and the outcomes of therapy.


So, be mindful to be a better therapist.


“In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?”  –  Carl R. Rogers


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Improve Psychological Well Being with Spirituality


Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention. – Deepak Chopra
Psychological well-being is sometimes thought of as a lack of mental illness. But, it is more than just a lack of something. It is a positive set of characteristics that lead to happy, well-adjusted life. These include the ability to be aware of and accept one’s strengths and weaknesses, to have goals that give meaning to life, to truly believe that your potential capabilities are going to be realized, to have close and valuable relations with others, the ability to effectively manage life issues especially daily issues, and the ability to follow personal principles even when opposed to society. These are also all characteristics that the great psychologist Abraham Maslow labelled self-actualization.


These are lofty goals that only few truly accomplish completely. But, we can strive to improve at each. Religion and spirituality encourage such personal growth. Indeed, spirituality appears to be associated with more positive attitudes toward physical and psychological difficulties and toward the end of life (see In today’s Research News article “Predicting Dimensions of Psychological Well Being Based on Religious Orientations and Spirituality: An Investigation into a Causal Model”

Khashab and colleagues investigated the relationship of spirituality with psychological well-being in college students.


They found significant positive relationships between spirituality overall and the dimensions of psychological well-being including self-acceptance, relations with others, autonomy, goal-directed life, personal growth, and dominance on environment. In addition spirituality was associated with internal, external, and questioning religious orientations which were, in turn, associated with the dimensions of psychological well-being.


Hence, the study found clear, strong, and significant relationships between spirituality, religious orientation, and psychological well-being. But, the results do not establish a causal connection. It cannot be concluded that spirituality caused psychological well-being, or that psychological well-being psychological well-being spirituality, or some third factor such as religious orientation was responsible for both. But, nevertheless, the findings are suggestive of a clear relationship, at least for college students.


How might spirituality promote psychological well-being. Obviously, it provides goals and meaning to life. In addition, virtually all spiritual practices and religious belief systems promote acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses, the need to maintain a principled life, having harmonious relationships with others. So, at least some forms of spirituality can directly provide teachings that lead directly to psychological well-being. When this occurs within a religious context there is the added benefit of a like-minded community that can provide social support and help during difficult times.


So, improve psychological well-being with spirituality


“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centred on the body” – Buddha


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Permanent Impermanence



It is a very human tendency when a pleasant state of affairs is attained that we strive to maintain it. But, much to our chagrin and frustration, try as we may, it never lasts. The new car we loved so much loses its’ luster, the fun party must end and everyone go home, the infatuation and excitement of new love fades, good health is interrupted with illness, our happiness at winning at a game of chance is short lived, the new exciting job becomes drudgery, etc.


But, the other side of the coin is also true. We try to get rid of those states that we find unsatisfactory, painful, or intolerable, but in this case impermanence works in our favor and these unpleasant things also fade away. Unfortunately, we don’t give much credit to impermanence here; instead we focus on the frustration produced by the elimination of the pleasant things we want to keep.


The truth is that impermanence is permanent. Nothing can or will ever stay the same. Constant change is the rule of nature. If we try to prevent change we’re effectively trying to prevent the tide from rolling in and out, the fall from turning to winter and then to spring, or the flowers from budding, blooming, and decaying. The human condition is one of continuous unending change. If we strive to stop it we will inevitably be unhappy and frustrated.


Our words and concepts help to trap us in a belief that there is permanence in the world. When we use the word apple we tend to see it as a fixed and permanent entity rather than something that is in a process of continuous dynamic change, from seed, to seedling, to tree, to bud, to green apple, to ripe apple, to decaying apple, to seed. The same goes for a good friend whom we name and see as a permanent entity, whereas this individual like the apple is just at a single point in their continuous changing lives. Everything is impermanent and ever changing. To see anything as otherwise is a delusion.


In fact, the permanence that we think we want is not all that it’s cracked up to be. When everything stays the same we get very bored. In other words we really don’t like permanence. The learning that we relish is itself a form of impermanence altering what we know and believe. Without that form of impermanence we would never be able to improve or adapt. In fact happiness itself is a change in state, without impermanence we could not have either happiness or sadness. We certainly would not like permanent sadness or panic. We certainly wouldn’t enjoy having to watch the same movie over and over and over again, or for that matter hearing the same note continuously.


So, we should be thankful for impermanence. It is responsible for what we label the spice of life. It’s what allows us to adapt and grow. It’s what keeps us interested in life and the environment and people that surround us. It’s what makes a rainbow wondrous. It’s what makes music and art beautiful. It is actually even responsible for keeping us healthy by constantly replacing worn out cells, eliminating dying or diseased tissues, or eliminating an invasive virus. Change is, in fact, a very good thing.


We should actually revel in impermanence. Not only stop trying to counteract it or even just accept it, but rather to be ecstatic about it. We can observe with awe the wonder of the ever present evolution of all experiences and things. We can enjoy the forever changing symphony of feeling and sensations we experience. We can rest peacefully in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a new adventure, completely different from today.


We can truly enjoy the good feelings we experience and focus on them knowing that they won’t last. We can be elated that we’re having this wonderful experience and not ignore how good it is in the futile attempt to maintain it. Better yet, we can know that the things that are not to our liking will also change and look forward to better experiences. Impermanence is permanent and also wonderful when accepted. Don’t fight it, join it.


So, mindfully experience every delicious impermanent moment. It will never be repeated or happen again. So, treat as the one time treasure that it is.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Losing the Center



For most people the self is the center of their universe. It is seen as the center of all experiences, as the initiator of all actions, and as the center of what they believe it means to be human. We are a very self-centered species. This has been useful from an evolutionary standpoint as it has fueled self-preservation and the desire to better the self. This has led to constructive and adaptive behaviors that have furthered the well-being of the individual and the species.


But, the idea of a self, of a center, also has its dark side. Problems with the self-image or a weak self-concept can produce suffering and maladaptive behavior. It can also lead to selfishness. It even leads us to miss how interconnected we are to other people, the earth itself, and the entire universe for that matter. This has led to a lack of appreciation of the environment which has resulted in devastating environmental degradation.


One of the many problems with the self, the center, is that it can exacerbate rumination which fuels depression and anxiety. Rumination is a repetitive thought process usually involving some negative life event or situation from the past or repeated worry about some potential negative event in the future. Rumination is a characteristic of anxiety and depression which focuses on past issues and future potential problems. In rumination, the individual is normally at the center, with all the repetitive thoughts revolving around the self.


Mindfulness training has been shown to decrease rumination and depression (see and reduce worry, depression and anxiety (see One hypothesis for mindfulness’ effectiveness is that it reduces the individual’s tendency to see the self as the center of everything. It may be producing a decentering such that events are no longer seen as personal. Occurrences then can be seen as just things happening that do not necessarily either involve or reflect upon the self.

In today’s Research News article “A shift in perspective: Decentering through mindful attention to imagined stressful events”

Lebois and colleagues investigate whether mindfulness leads to decentering as evidenced by brain activity. They taught non-meditators a strategy for dealing with stressful events, mindful attention, which involved simply viewing events as fleeting experiences in the mind. They compared neural activity when imagining a stressful event between mindful attention and the normal self-centered process termed immersion. In general they found that immersion resulted in increased neural activity while imaging the stressful event, while mindful attention decreased neural activity. In other words, when the self was removed from the stressful event the nervous system became more relaxed, while when the self was the center of the stressful event the nervous system reacted more vigorously.


The systems in the brain that were activated differed between the mindful attention and the immersion conditions. In comparison to immersion, during mindful attention there was greater activation of brain areas that have been associated with changing ones perspective (Angular Gyrus), decision making and attentional control (Inferior prefrontal cortex), augmented inhibitory control (medial prefrontal cortex), and visual processing (inferior and middle occipital gyrus). In comparison to mindful attention, during immersion there was greater activation of brain areas involved when integrating visceral states, including the subgenual cingulate cortex, ventral anterior cingulate cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex/medial orbitofrontal cortex. These areas are associated with monitoring and processing reward, attending to feelings, and labeling stimuli as self-relevant. Thus, immersion appeared to engage stronger self, bodily, and affective responses than did mindful attention, consistent with engaging oneself in events physically, becoming immersed in them, and experiencing them as subjectively real.


These results suggest that mindful attention produced a shift in perspective that disengaged the sense of self from events, decentering. As a consequence, imagined events could be experienced as transitory mental states occurring in the present moment. These results further support the hypothesis that mindfulness reduces worry and rumination by removing the self from the evaluation of events. Hence, mindfulness’ effectiveness for anxiety and depression may be due in part to the removal of the self from one’s perspective on events, leading to a blunted impact of worry and rumination, leading to reduced anxiety and depression.


So, practice mindfulness and decenter.


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies